"More like France ..."


We've got a new Think Again column called "Meanwhile, Back in Baghdad," here, and my Nation column is called "These Are Better Days."

A long time ago in what feels like a far-off place, I wrote a column in The Nation warning that it was inevitable that Rupert Murdoch would feel compelled to ruin the news pages of The Wall Street Journal once he got a hold of them in order to incorporate them into the larger purposes of his media empire. Well, yesterday we got the news that that ruination is about to begin. The Wall Street Journal has a new deputy editor-in-chief, who will oversee the paper's news coverage. His name is Gerard Baker, previously of The Times of London, and -- gird yourself for this stunning revelation -- he describes himself as a "right-wing curmudgeon."

Michael Calderone, who first reported the hire, says it was a "move that surprised some staffers because of his strong right-wing political views." If true, that only means there are some pretty optimistic (naïve, if you prefer) staffers there. They originally opposed the Murdoch takeover, saying, "Mr. Murdoch has shown a willingness to crush quality and independence, and there is no reason to think he would handle Dow Jones or The Journal any differently." Of course there was later a "deal" made with the Bancroft family that no such influence would be wielded, but was clearly a fig leaf that allowed the Bancrofts to complete the sale without admitting they had abandoned the paper's journalistic mission.

Baker thinks Obama is a "dangerous left winger." He explains:

There is a caste of left-wing Americans who wish essentially and in all honesty that their country was much more like France. They wish it had much higher levels of taxation and government intervention, that it had much higher levels of welfare, that it did not have such a "militaristic" approach to foreign policy. Above all, that its national goals were dictated, not by the dreadful halfwits who inhabit godforsaken places like Kansas and Mississippi, but by the counsels of the United Nations.

Though Mr Obama has done a good job, as all recent serious Democrats have done, of emphasising his belief in American virtues, his record and his programme suggest he is firmly in line with this wing of his party.

Thanks again, Bancrofts ...

ABC's idea of "breaking news": Breaking News from ABCNEWS.com:

'Pregnant Man' Thomas Beatie Tells ABC's Barbara Walters He Is Expecting Second Child [11:07 a.m. ET]

George Zornick writes: I confess, I told a few people that Joe the Plumber was a relative of Charles Keating, the banker involved in the Keating Five scandal that ensnared Sen. John McCain in 1991. But that's not true -- it's a claim fabricated by a couple pranksters who have gone to elaborate lengths creating an imaginary conservative wonk, Martin Eisenstadt of the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy.

Of course, I only mentioned the Keating connection in conversation, and soon learned it was false. Notably, though, I do not work for a major cable news network, and I didn't pass along any Eisenstadt-based tidbits on the air, as MSNBC's David Shuster did this week. Talking about the rumors that Sarah Palin didn't know Africa was a country, Shuster said: "Turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks."

"Eisenstadt" wrote on his blog that he alone was the source for the rumors, and that indeed Palin didn't know -- and MSNBC hurried to get that on the air after the fake blog post was linked in several mainstream political blogs, including The New Republic. More here.

The prank highlights the vacuous nature of cable news, where information is pumped and then dumped without too much awareness of who provided it, or why. But more importantly it's a caveat to bloggers -- who is behind that Typepad page you want to quote? Do you know them? Do you know if they're reliable, or even real?

What Obamedia? Shepard Smith gets it, even if Deborah Howell doesn't:

SMITH: Oh, please ... the mainstream media reflected what was happening in this nation. It did not drive it. The blogs didn't drive this movement. The media didn't drive this movement. Barack Obama did not lose this election. It was his to lose, it was not John McCain's to win. The Republicans had no shot unless the Democrats gave it to them, and they didn't. And to blame the media is a copout and ridiculous. We are always here to be blamed by people like you who enjoy that activity. We always will be. When the Democrats lost last time, it was our fault. When the Republicans lost this time, it's our fault. It's not.

(Obviously I take issue with his final claim -- Fox News' relentless smearing of John Kerry surely had a negative influence on his chances.)

Earlier this week we noted the absolutely pathetic attacks by Limbaugh, Hannity, et al on the president-elect: For example, Hannity's immediate post-election concern was not that Obama may institute progressive taxation or increase regulation, but that "I fear [this] is the guy that has these radical associations 20 years ago."

Harold Meyerson's thinking the same thing, and has penned a thank-you to Rupert Murdoch for helping marginalize the GOP with the Fox News sideshow:

During the campaign just completed, you guys focused on Barack Obama's allegedly Muslim and alien roots and socialist ideology; meanwhile, in the real world, unemployment rose, foreclosures soared and Wall Street went flooey. Over the past eight years, you beat drums for such causes as state intervention in the Terri Schiavo case. You demonized undocumented immigrants (okay, CNN's Lou Dobbs gave you a run for your money on that one). You fed the Republican base with a steady diet of bile -- and now that bilious base is the biggest impediment to the Republicans' repositioning themselves so that they can win elections again.

The rest is here. Seriously, remember when Fox News was far more skillfully crafted propaganda?

This week on Moyers:

Middle East policy: What will President-elect Obama's promises of change mean for the Middle East? Guest host Deborah Amos sits down with Elizabeth Rubin, the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Slate magazine columnist Fred Kaplan. Then, Bill Moyers Journal and Exposé: America's Investigative Reports follow a team from The Denver Post's award-winning reporting on the broken justice system on Indian reservations across the country.

From TomDispatch:

On the day that Americans turned out in near record numbers to vote, Tom Engelhardt points out, another record was set halfway around the world -- the U.S. Air Force wiped out at least its sixth wedding party in Afghanistan or Iraq since December 2001. Those American planes killing civilians in rising numbers in Afghanistan and the Pakistani borderlands "remain part of George W. Bush's Air Force," he writes, "but only until January 21, 2009. Then, they -- and all the brides and grooms of Afghanistan and in the Pakistani borderlands who care to have something more than the smallest of private weddings -- officially become the property of President Barack Obama."

It's a sobering thought and where Engelhardt begins his discussion of the widening war Obama is inheriting and will soon take possession of -- not only the one in Iraq and the one he's already announced that he will himself expand in Afghanistan, but the Bush administration's fantasy world of war, the Global War on Terror, that has nonetheless set all-too-real expanses of the planet aflame.

He suggests that unless we -- the citizens of this country -- pitch our tents on the public commons, make noise, and don't go home in the wake of Obama's election victory, he will be left alone in airless Washington with all the "wise men and women" of various past been-there-done-that political moments.

This is a wide-ranging piece on the national security world the new president will find himself in. Engelhardt concludes:

"Political Washington is a conspiracy -- in the original sense of the word: 'to breathe the same air.' In that sense, there is no air in Washington that isn't stale enough to choke a president. Send Obama there alone, give him that 'breathing space,' don't start demanding the quick ending of wars or anything else, and you're not doing him, or the American people, any favors. Quite the opposite, you're consigning him to suffocation.

"Leave Obama to them and he'll break your heart. If you do, then blame yourself, not him; but better than blaming anyone, pitch your own tent on the public commons and make some noise. Let him know that Washington's isn't the only consensus around, that Americans really do want our troops to come home, that we actually are looking for 'change we can believe in,' which would include a less weaponized, less imperial American world, based on a reinvigorated idea of defense, not aggression, and on the Constitution, not leftover Rumsfeld rules or a bogus Global War on Terror."

Correspondence Corner:

Name: John
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Mi

Aw shucks Dr A,

"There you go again," showing your wimpy Liberal bias to poor Michael Barone. Every average Joe with any religious background knows the accepted minimum sentence for such crimes is "40 years wandering in the wilderness" with the maximum being life without parole. Please reconsider your overly lenient 8 to 12 years to meet these more conservative standards.

Name: Kris Alexander
Hometown: Austin TX (Currently an East Coast military refugee)


The civilian national security force idea is nothing new. I pitched a presentation about a similar concept a couple years ago at a conference at Fort Leavenworth. Gen. Petraeus was there and heard it. He even asked some insightful questions which was pretty cool for a low ranking guy like me. And Bush also proposed an idea similar to this in his 2007 State of the Union Address. I wrote about it here.

Of course, I'm wondering if my proposal makes me a neo-fascist too.

I am envious of you getting to see the Hold Steady and the Drive-by Truckers. The Hold Steady kicks a lot of ass. It's like listening to Springsteen if he'd done a lot of hard drugs and wasn't a baby boomer.

Name: Peter
Hometown: London, Ontario, Canada

Thanks for the piece about Israel's treatment of its Arab minority. Bradley Burston recently wrote a provocative piece in Haaretz on the same topic in which he compares the situation of Israeli Arabs to African-Americans.

The readers' comments after the article reinforce the view that both countries still have a way to go in terms of equality for all citizens, although the US is clearly a few decades ahead ...

Name: Thomas Beck
Hometown: East Windsor, NJ

Something interesting is that Fox News Channel does a pretty decent job of covering stories that are not easily ideologically spun. Not all the time, but I've found myself sometimes turning to them when CNN or MSNBC is running something relatively trivial. Brit Hume has his moments as a straight newscaster, as do some of the others, when they're not simply parroting Republican National Committee talking points. Granted, Hannity and O'Reilly are inexcusable, but the rest of the operation could be a great news network if they'd simply let themselves truly be fair and balanced. They have the talent and the commitment; they just need to drop the partisanship. Granted, that's like saying all the Mets need to do is drop the suck, but ... I think it would be easier for Fox, to be honest.

Name: Merrill R. Frank
Hometown: Jackson Heights, NYC

Dr. The other night I finally caught up with the documentary "Boogie Man" on PBS Frontline about Republican campaign consultant Lee Atwater's career, which peaked when his client, George Bush the elder, won the 1988 presidential election. Interspersed throughout the film were your comments which put into context the attacks on "Liberal elites" as well as the power of attack politics to shape elections and how Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" continues to this day to exert a powerful influence on the electorate.

What struck me was after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor he said he "found God," read the new Bible that one of his brethren gave him and forgave those he attacked. Yet after his death the Bible he claimed he consulted to inspire him to forgive remained in his hospital room, unused still wrapped in cellophane. Maybe the unwrapped Bible is the ultimate metaphor for the cynicism and corruption of the last eight years where you can pander to the lowest common denominator and play to worst prejudices and anxieties just to get enough of the base out or as Sen. Moynihan called it in different context "Boob bait for bubbas." Hopefully last week's election results will stick a cold stake in the heart of this stuff once and for all.

Name: Jason Parrish
Hometown: Santa Rosa, CA

Dr. Alterman,

I have a post-graduate education, but not in economics, which might be why an article like this makes me absolutely sick. This is tacit admission that we aren't bailing out just any company, but really all companies, or any large enough to steer their ship of finance toward the large bail-out.

In China, they're pumping national money into public infrastructure development, building transportation, manufacturing, eductation, ports and telecommunications to continue their long-term economic development. Here in the US, we're pumping taxpayer money into large financial institutions based here and around the globe, the tangible effect to American taxpayers is ... warm fuzzies to internal loan officers regulating Bank-to-Bank lending?

Does this deal increasingly stink to economists as well as the rest of the Americans not partaking in the billions of dollars in executive bonuses this Christmastime?

Name: Rory
Hometown: Oakland, CA

Dr. A

A slight correction to calling the eponymous "Warren Zevon" his debut album. His first album "Wanted Dead or Alive" was released in 1969.

He later was so embarrassed by it, he ignored it. ("Iko Iko"?!?!?) My ex-wife, who introduced me to Zevon's music had an original copy. I have a re-release on Pickwick I found in the late 70's.

Name: Doug
Hometown: Arlington, VA

Wow, I read your column for the politics -- and suddenly you interject a spot-on description of the loudmouth sports columnist from Boston, Bill Simmons. (Expect a childish response from him if he happens to see it.)

Kinda reminded me of a similar -- if you will -- "crossover commentary" in 2003 by legendary football writer Paul Zimmerman, who summarized Rush Limbaugh better than anyone in the MSM ever has: "Rush ... represents, as I've mentioned, everything I hate in political and every other kind of commentary. Narrow-minded, intolerant, a sworn enemy of the disadvantaged, a friend of the power elite, against anyone who would dare to voice protest in an effort to alleviate human misery."

Name: Richard Taylor
Hometown: San Antonio, TX

I have been reading Bill Simmons' stuff about as long as I've been reading Altercation. Just as I followed Altercation from MSNBC to Media Matters, I followed Simmons from his own blog to ESPN.

Yes, he is a big fan of Boston sports teams. His old blog was called "Boston Sport's Guy." What I don't think he has ever been a fan of is the sportscaster/announcer/writer who purports to be unbiased but shows their bias in more subtle ways. If he's not a Bills fan, it's probably because they play in the same division as the Pats.

ESPN, however does not allow Simmons to mock other sportscasters/announcers/writers by name which is a shame as he was wonderful on mocking the Boston Globe's writer/columnist Dan Shaughnessy (aka the "Curly Headed Boy"). So, the point he was probably making was more along the lines of the old Shaughnessy bits. Shaughnessy always seemed to be the type of writer who covered sports but didn't like anyone involved with sports.

A long way of saying don't take Simmons' bit as anti-Bills just because. He isn't a Bills fan but I think he does like real fans of teams and probably doesn't see Berman as such (assuming it was Berman he was talking about -- don't forget, Berman spent years picking the Bills to be his AFC Super Bowl team, long after they'd actually started stinking up the joint) :})

Name: Robert Weintraub
Hometown: Atlanta

Doctor A --

I'll second that emotion on Simmons -- his swipe was surely aimed at Chris "No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills" Berman. Sure, Berman can be buffoonish, but as you point out, it's scarcely different from Bill's frequent 10k-word treatises on all things Bostonian.

Nevertheless, I must rise to defend ESPN on the "anti-Bills bias" label (disclosure -- I'm a past employee of the net, and write for the dotcom). Irvin and Smith were brought in, warts and all, because they are Hall of Fame members of the league's most popular team. I fail to see the linkage between defending the 'Boys and hating on the Bills -- frankly, I doubt any of those Cowboys regard Buffalo with enmity. Pity, perhaps. Certainly neither have gone out their way to slam the Buffalo unfairly.

And, following your argument, who would you have ESPN hire from those Bills teams? The only plausible name is Jim Kelly, who has admirably set aside any type of broadcasting career to tend to the foundation he set up in the name of his son, Hunter, who died from a rare condition called Krabbe's Disease a few years ago. And Andre Reed has in fact appeared on ESPN, albeit not on Gameday or anything as high profile as Emmitt and Irvin. They could call Thurman Thomas, but he might forget his wireless mic on the way to the studio...

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